Cleo McDougal Regrets Nothing by Allison Winn Scotch

Rating:           4

General Rating: Strong female characters win me over every time. They will you, too, in this insightful yet humorous story of a woman running for president.

Favorite line: “Emily shrugged as if, well, it was what it was so she became the full-time parent. Not because he was better at his job than she was, not because she was dying to pack lunches and fold laundry and run all the soccer carpools, but because in the default of the gender hierarchy, for some reason, the man’s needs came first.”

Skip factor:  2%. Maybe? I skipped little.

Who should read:  Feminists, single mothers, politically-aspired, or career-driven women. (Have I missed any women? If I have, add them, too.)   

Summary: Senator Cleo McDougal’s parents died when she was young, but before her father passed, he inspired her to keep a list of regrets—so she could learn from her mistakes. Now she is a contender for a presidential nomination, and when an estranged high school friend writes a damaging op-ed, Cleo must face some of the regrets on her list.

Cleo’s chief of staff, Gaby, detests Cleo admitting mistakes. But when she realizes Cleo has maintained a list of regrets all her life (thirty-nine years), Gaby decides surviving the op-ed and future revelations a presidential candidacy will evoke might fare better if Cleo makes amends with the high school friend—publicly. Though not completely sincere, Cleo’s public apology receives favorable feedback, and Gaby encourages her to address all of her regrets. Cleo explains she has over 200 on her list so they agree upon fixing ten, and the story cascades into the various situations that any woman, who has even the slightest of ambition, might face.   

Characters:  Scotch developed her characters into true-to-life people.  

Cleo is a single mother who is well-liked, hard-working, and competitive. She worked her way up the political ladder through sheer determination. I didn’t love her. I’m sure the author would not take offense. Cleo had a journey to make. She is the main character and, as in all novels, had a lesson to learn.   

Lucas – Is a typical fourteen-year-old with an atypical life. Through no fault of his own (isn’t everything a mother’s fault?), he is living within the political arena. To make matters worse, his birth father’s identity has been withheld from him. He floats in and out of the story adding to Cleo’s guilt load because, well, don’t all teenagers?

Gaby –  Is an intelligent, mostly loyal, feminist, and long-time friend of Cleo. She makes the hard decisions for her boss. Unlike Cleo, Gaby has a side fling going on which continually reminds Cleo that she does not.

Arianna – Is Cleo’s assistant. She is also a smart, hardworking woman (I love the strong female characters in this novel) but has one major drawback. She apologizes profusely, which adds much to Cleo’s story.

Georgie – Is Cleo’s much older sister whom she is not close to. Georgie comes in at the final hour to help.

The guys – Is it bad that I don’t remember much of them or care that I remember much about them? There is an important politician, Wolf, an ex-boyfriend, Matty, a biological father, Doug, and a newscaster, Bowen. Each is placed in the story to highlight the different standards applied to women in life as opposed to those expected of men.

Storyline:  This is the story of womanhood, the struggles they face today, the mistakes they make, the insecurities they have, and their ultimate strength and resilience. Cleo McDougal needed to learn a lesson. She had to accept her imperfectness. And while she may be a presidential candidate, everyday women, especially working mothers or single moms, can relate to her life. While society is hard on us, we are sometimes our hardest critics.   

Writing:  The writing was easy, interesting, and balanced. Just enough white space for someone like me who loves dialogue but not too much.

Read this author again? Absolutely.  

Read on!

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CJ Zahner is the author of The Suicide Gene, a psychological thriller, Dream Wide Awake, and Project Dream, two thrillers that carry a sixth-sense paranormal element, and Friends Who Move Couches, women’s fiction. These last two novels were inspired by Zahner’s own experiences. See the video of her own paranormal experience, a premonition of 9/11 here. Download her Beyond Reality Radio podcast here. Follow her on InstagramTwitterFacebookGoodreadsBookBub, or LinkedIn. Purchase her books on Amazon.

Friends Who Move Couches by CJ Zahner

Rating:           ?

General Rating: Strong female characters and Evy. Hope you love them. (Disclaimer: I had to put my own novel in the can’t-put-down category. You’ll have to decide for yourself!)

Favorite line: “Sometimes families rise out of the ashes together. Maybe with a smidge of dirt on their wings.”

Skip factor:  0%. Of course.

Who should read:  Any woman who values friendship.   

Summary:  This is almost a memoir.  

Nikki Grey’s idea of living dangerously is not wearing a seatbelt, yet calamity always seems to find her.

Married to a workaholic, mothering three rebellious kids, and feuding with neighborhood friends, Nikki forgets her problems one afternoon by smoking marijuana. That blunder ignites a lifelong yet dormant medical condition, and she loses her driver’s license. Suddenly stranded in her home, she’s forced to stare out the window at women who have ostracized her.

Her true friends encourage her to concentrate on her health, but Nikki is her own nemesis. She embarks on a scheme to win back neighborhood friends and plunges into efforts that only end in muddying her reputation. She becomes the butt of neighborhood jokes. Foolishly, her ache to mend her broken relationships escalates.

Not until her two-timing husband asks her a question that catapults her frivolous suburban life into a tailspin is she forced to stop reaching for others and stand on her own.

Storyline, characters, and author’s note:  

While my life, friends, family, and true-life quotes at the beginning of each chapter inspired much of this almost memoir, many aspects differ. 

First, it’s true I come from a small family and am frivolously addicted to friendship, but thankfully, I married Jeff Zahner, not Mark Grey. Throughout my thirty-eight-year marriage to Jeff, I often wondered how many men would so easily smirk and shake their heads at my escapades. In other words, I married a Blake the Pro right off the bat. Jeff and I have been faithful to each other since the day we met. (He assures me I can state this. He does not want to end up a character in one of my thrillers.)

Second, I’m not a cute, little blonde like Reese Witherspoon. I did this for your reading enjoyment. Imagine the same story with a frumpy, old, nagging brunette?

Third, I have one sibling, a brother, Mike. He is married to Barb. Mike is eleven years older than me. He began dating Barb when he was thirteen, and I was two, so Barb has been like a sister to me throughout life. This is a girly book, so I made Barb my sister. The hard, tragic, almost unbearable truth is Mike suffers from early-onset dementia, and Barb, from early-onset Alzheimer’s.

I do have three children who were rambunctiously mischievous throughout their childhood and teenage years, but I am happy to announce they have surpassed their father’s and my wildest expectations, superseding us in education, strength, courage, and character. My oldest daughter earned a master’s degree and has a resume grown men would kill for. She worked in the professional sports arena (Phillies, Nationals, Orioles, Capitals, Wizards, and Rams). My son is an attorney. (He is also a poker player and pretty good golfer.) My youngest daughter grew up to challenge her father and I as much (if not more) than her two older siblings. She did become a teacher and is currently completing her doctorate in Special Education. Yes, I remain a royal pain in the butt to them, but no one will ever love them like their mother.

Finally, Jody and Val do not live by me. They were my first friends. Val and I played together in the nursery of St Luke’s Church in Erie, Pennsylvania alongside our mothers who attended mass there. Jody moved into my childhood neighborhood when she was two, and I was three. These two women are both brilliant, yet so interestingly opposite in nature that I transplanted them into my adult neighborhood. They remain the greatest of friends from afar. I love them both.

All other friend characters, from Carol and Carolyn to Doctor Jim, are real except for Evy and Ellie (who are the culmination of all my friends), and Janice Everglade (whom I hope I never meet). Reah and Natasha are not the real names of the two friends who broke my heart. Our parting was exaggerated for interest, but I do still struggle over the loss of their friendship. I have come to realize we were friends at a time when we needed each other most. I must trust God’s wisdom, wish them the best in life, and carry on.

One final note, I am truly a girl’s girl and wonderfully blessed with great friends. The one thing I am sure of in life is that the friends I do have would move bodies for me—and I, for them.   

Read on!

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CJ Zahner is the author of The Suicide Gene, a psychological thriller, Dream Wide Awake, and Project Dream, two thrillers that carry a sixth-sense paranormal element, and Friends Who Move Couches, women’s fiction. These last two novels were inspired by Zahner’s own experiences. See the video of her own paranormal experience, a premonition of 9/11 here. Download her Beyond Reality Radio podcast here. Follow her on InstagramTwitterFacebookGoodreadsBookBub, or LinkedIn. Purchase her books on Amazon.

Book Club Questions for Friends Who Move Couches

Select your favorites or answer all. The author’s favorites are 4, 8, 9, 13, & 14.

  1. Do you believe women need friends more than men?
  2. Which character in the book would you like to have as a friend?
  3. Are Nikki’s children typical kids and did you have a favorite?
  4. If you could toilet paper one person’s house in the whole world, whose would it be?
  5. Do you have a Rock-of-Gibraltar Jody in your life?
  6. How about a fun-loving Val?
  7. Which of the characters are you the most like?
  8. Where in the book, if ever, did you wish Nikki would notice Blake the Pro?
  9. Who was the best friend in the book?
  10. What is the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you?
  11. Have you ever toilet papered a house? (Truth, please.)
  12. What one question would you like to ask the author? 
  13. The author unexpectedly fell in love with one character. Who do you think it was?
  14. Do you believe friends move into and out of our lives at precisely the right moment?
  15. If you had a nickname like Blake the Pro or TP Nikki or Doctor Death, what would it be?

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CJ Zahner is the author of a psychological thriller, The Suicide Gene, two thrillers with paranormal edges, Dream Wide Awake  & Project Dream, and ChickLit, Friends Who Move Couches, Chicklit. Book clubs may contact her at cyndie@cyndiezahner.com to set up in-person or Zoom meetings.

Searching for other author’s books? Read Zahner’s reviews here.

Follow CJ on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, BookBub, or LinkedIn. Purchase her books on Amazon.

A Grand Old Time by Judy Leigh

Rating:                              4

General Rating: A cute little story about old age. The main character, Evy, captured my heart immediately. It took a bit longer for me to warm up to the storyline, but I was in love with Evy so gladly kept going. By the second half of the book, I loved the story, too.

Skip factor:  5% I skipped parts in the first half and not a word in the second half.

Who should read:  Older women, but be warned, remember this is fiction. Following in Evy’s footsteps could be disastrous.

Summary:  If you’ve ever thought hard about future days in an assisted-living facility or nursing home, read this. After Evie’s husband passes away, she goes to live at Sheldon Lodge. She has one child, Brendan, whom she adores, but when she decides she no longer wants to live at the Lodge, she doesn’t bother Brendan and his wife. She embarks on a journey of her own.

Without a spoiler, the plot is not completely believable but so cute you keep reading. Evy’s lucky number is four, so when she decides to leave Sheldon Lodge, she finds herself at a race track betting on her lucky number four. She wins a very large amount of money and takes herself on an adventure.

Characters:  Leigh’s main character, Evy, grabs your heart from the start. Her other characters take some warming up to. Here they are in the order I liked them:

Evy is a quirky little old lady with a wild imagination. You can’t help but like her. Simply, she lies for fun, inspiring readers to wonder what she’ll do next. That anticipation keeps you reading.

Jean-Luc – I loved this character, maybe as much as Evy. Jean-Luc is the man Evy eventually falls in love with. He is introduced as a grumpy old man at a bar, but Leigh’s writing cleverly makes you take note of, even like, him immediately. Leigh hints he is cranky for some unknown reason, and readers fall in love with him along with Evy.

Maura is Brendan’s wife. She enters as a nagging minor character but in the latter half of the book, Maura emerges as a kind soul. Evy, who never cared for Maura, begins to see this better side of her, too. I went from not liking her at all to loving her in the second half of the book.

Brendan, the son, I didn’t like at all. He’s a negative person who never expresses himself. I do think Leigh conveys to her readers what it is like to be an introvert. I kept thinking, “Speak up Brendan,” but he barely does. He changes for the better, but not until much later.

Minor Characters abound during Evy’s travels. When she finally settles down, some advance to the forefront. I liked most of them, but none impressed me as much as the main characters. They flitted in and out for the purpose of helping readers grow to love Evy even more, which worked.

Storyline:  A cute story of a little old lady who refuses to sit idle in her senior years. She sets out on an adventure and finds love and happiness. The story is fun and simple, but it has underlying life messages including: live for the moment so you have no regrets in your old age, and life is not always as it seems. Evy’s perspective on life has changed over the years. What once seemed important to her, no longer is. A great lesson.

Writing:  Leigh’s simplistic writing draws you in easily. It’s a clever slow burn rather than page-turning. I wasn’t compelled to read long into the night. YET. I found myself reaching to read more of Evy’s adventures early in the morning, to find out what she was up to. Her writing is clean, crisp, and clever.

Once again as I’ve done in many books, I struggled a bit toward the beginning, but its slow start was purposeful. A reviewer of one of my own novels put first-chapter struggles better than me. She said: It took me a little bit to get into it, but I later realized the beginning of the book created the love for all the “friends who move bodies”.

Read this author again? Yes. I’m looking to read many more of Leigh’s novels. If you have one you liked in particular, shoot me an email!  

Read on!

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CJ Zahner is the author of The Suicide Gene, a psychological thriller, Dream Wide Awake, and Project Dream, two thrillers that carry a sixth-sense paranormal element, and Friends Who Move Couches, women’s fiction. These last two novels were inspired by Zahner’s own experiences. See the video of her own paranormal experience, a premonition of 9/11 here. Download her Beyond Reality Radio podcast here. Follow her on InstagramTwitterFacebookGoodreadsBookBub, or LinkedIn. Purchase her books on Amazon.

 

 

Sorry I Missed You by Suzy Krause

Rating:                              4

General Rating: Do you like quirky? Read this. For the first fourth of Sorry I Missed You, I didn’t understand what the fuss over this book was. I mean it’s everywhere, right? Despite Krause’s writing being quick and clever, exactly what I love, I wasn’t enamored with the beginning. But hold on. Don’t put this one down.  I plodded on and ended up loving it!

Skip factor:  0% I skipped nothing. Krause’s short, crisp writing, with lots of dialogue, kept me from skipping anything at all.

Who should read:  For the first time in a review, I’m not sure who to suggest should read this novel. My guess is, if you like frivolous, quirky characters, good writing, and different plots, you’ll like this. That’s as good as my guess gets today.

Summary:  This is the story of three very different women and their nerdy landlord. Upfront, there appear to be ghosts in the attic of the three-unit old-home-converted-to-apartment building they share. Each of the women, along with Landlord Larry, have a past dilemma haunting them (ha-ha) that they must come to terms with.

Nineteen-year-old Mackenzie can’t forgive herself for a lie she told at thirteen. Middle-aged Sunna, a beauty, can’t forgive a friend—and not just any friend but a more-beautiful, went-on-to-a-bigger-brighter-career friend—for ghosting her. And the totally friendless senior character, Maude, can’t get along with anyone because some man, Richard, left her at the alter—or rather, in the park in a wedding gown.

When a note in the mailbox, “Sorry I missed You” is found all but ripped to shreds, the three attempt to decipher who it was meant for. The only message they can decrypt, however, is someone will meet someone at a local coffee shop on some afternoon. Because of their haunting pasts, each of the women believe the letter was meant for them, and they begin meeting at the coffee shop every day, which results in a rather forced friendship. Then, when the building they live in presents ghosts of its own—real ghosts—they begin to rely heavily on each other.

Without a spoiler, the plot is silly, but by the time a reader realizes this, they’ve got too much invested in these women. By halfway through the book I couldn’t put it down because I LOVED all three of them along with landlord Larry.

Characters:  Krause’s characters are so different you’ll thrive on their interactions. I am honestly unsure which character I liked the most. Very seldom do I begin a book not liking any characters and end up loving all of them, equally. In fact. This is a first, so here are the characters in no particular order:

Sunna is a beauty but has been stifled by her ex-friend Britt, a bigger beauty. Sunna has no patience, is curt, and when she becomes acquainted with the older lady in her apartment building, Maude, she realizes she is on a path to become alone and friendless like Maude.

Mackenzie is the youngest and nicest tenant, who at times you believe might be a murderer. Yet you love her anyway for her compassion.

Maude is the old lady you love to hate. Bitter, annoyed, whiny, and honest to a fault, you can’t help but wish you had a little bit of her bluntness.

Landlord Larry is a forty-year-old punker who practically has nerd tattooed on his forehead. His thoughts are so entertaining that they add humor to his already peculiar, humorous life.

Minor characters – Not many. Richard, Maude’s ex, shows up but the reader judges him purely from Maude, Sunna and Mackenzie’s thrashing of him. A few other characters pop in for a line or two, but Krause keeps out the unimportant.

Storyline:  Strange, weird, silly, yet believe it or not, insightful. There are a few questions I have about the plots for Mackenzie and Sunna. (I must go back and reread. I’m sure I miss as I hurried to read!) And, not to ruin the tale, the way Krause winds up the ghosts in the attic is different even for me—an occasional paranormal writer—but unique as is the entire story. I couldn’t help but love this. Everything is so cleverly written you can’t put it down. Again, I’ve never gone from not caring for characters to loving them. (I have to figure out how Krause did this!) The writing of the storyline was superb, and I enjoyed the wrap up of their internal struggles.

Writing:  In Sorry I Missed You, Krause masters writing style, technique, word usage, and character development.

Like most novels, the story begins slow. For writers, beginnings are tough. You juggle the boredom of the backstory with opening sensationalism. Recently lambasted on Amazon about the beginning of one of my own novels, I’ve done some front-end soul-searching lately. Did I love the beginning of my own book? No. I didn’t blame my reviewer. My first chapter was okay. Second and third, eh. Fourth, I didn’t like. Then from five on out, I was pretty proud.

Sorry I Missed You re-sparked a flicker of confidence in me. I realized beginnings are tough for most writers—even fabulous ones like Krause.

I walked through her first chapters. However, by forty percent in, I was back in my happy place, speeding along. Comfortably curled up on the couch wondering how much reading I could get in before I started feeling guilty about my real-world chores.

If you love great writing and characters, you’ll love this like me.

Read this author again? Yes. I loved Krause’s writing. I’m not a fan of wordy, and Krause isn’t. She writes clean and crisp. Her character development is as good as any writer’s, better than most. I’m anxious to read her again.  

Read on!

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CJ Zahner is the author of The Suicide Gene, a psychological thriller, Dream Wide Awake, and Project Dream, two thrillers that carry a sixth-sense paranormal element, and Friends Who Move Couches, women’s fiction. These last two novels were inspired by Zahner’s own experiences. See the video of her own paranormal experience, a premonition of 9/11 here. Download her Beyond Reality Radio podcast here. Follow her on InstagramTwitterFacebookGoodreads, BookBub, or LinkedIn. Purchase her books on Amazon.